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Senators hope levee agreement will lead to reauthorizing flood program

WASHINGTON — Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) say they hope an agreement on the treatment of levees under the National Flood Insurance Program will allow the Senate to move closer to passage of long-term legislation to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

The lawmakers worked with Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) to address the treatment of levees in the Flood Insurance Reauthorization Bill (S.1940), according to a statement from Cochran’s office. Serious concerns over the Banking Committee’s initial treatment of levees, first raised by Cochran and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) last fall, were considered a major impediment to Senate passage of a long-term reauthorization measure. The original bill failed to give proper credit to federal, state, and local investments in levees and other flood control infrastructure.

The underlying measure that the Senate is expected to consider this week will include the agreement on Areas of Residual Risk (Section 107) to more fairly recognize the protection offered by levees and other flood control structures, eliminating the one-size-fits-all approach taken by the original proposal.

“Our nation has made serious investments in levees and flood control infrastructure, and my goal has been to ensure that these investments and the protection they provide are fully recognized. This agreement does that and offers more certainty and fairness to homeowners, businesses, communities and floodplain managers,” Cochran said. “This agreement increases our chances for passing a long-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, which is a national priority.”

According to Cochran, the original proposal approved by the Banking Committee would have unintentionally imposed burdensome land-use restrictions and mandated the purchase of insurance for all areas protected by a levee, including areas in the 500-year floodplain for a 500-year levee. Communities, homebuilders, realtors, floodplain managers and economic developers had raised serious concerns about the proposal’s effect on local economies and job creation.

The new provision largely addresses such concerns by: limiting the scope of risk to the natural 100-year floodplain; doing away with land-use restrictions in areas protected by healthy levees; delaying mandated flood insurance in areas protected by healthy levees until FEMA can develop tools to provide full credit for levee protection; waiving mandated flood insurance in areas with minimal flood risk; ensuring that prices in areas protected by healthy levees fully reflect investments made in local flood control infrastructure; and, allowing FEMA’s internal reforms to the treatment of unaccredited levees to continue.

FEMA is working with the National Academies of Sciences to develop analytical tools to accurately assess risk and set premiums for properties behind sound flood control structures.

The seeds of this agreement were sown last fall by Cochran and Pryor, who led a bipartisan effort to raise concerns that Section 107 of the Banking Committee’s legislation could unfairly place within Special Flood Hazard Areas all properties in a 500-year floodplain that are protected by a perfectly healthy 500-year levee.

Cochran, Pryor, and many others argued that the Banking Committee’s original Section 107 would have forced communities to pay multiple times for flood protection — once for constructing and maintaining flood control structures, twice for mandated flood insurance and a third time for mitigation and land-use restrictions.

 

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